Sprint Unlimited Plan Now $60 -- Good Deal or Not?
Sprint - The Empire Strikes Back
In case you've been hibernating for the last couple of years, you've been missing one hell of a wireless carrier war here in the United States. The big 4 has remained unchanged for eons now: Verizon Wireless, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint. But with recent changes to T-Mobile's plans we've been hearing echoes of Sprint dying or being acquired by one of the other carriers. Well, get ready because Sprint has come out swinging:
"It’s anew day for unlimited data in the wireless industry as Sprint (NYSE: S) announces the best unlimited wireless plan available from a national carrier with the Sprint $60 Unlimited Plan. This plan provides consumers unlimited talk, text and data while on America’s Newest Network for just $60 per month, a $20 savings compared to T-Mobile’s $80 per month unlimited plan. Simple, easy, affordable – the Sprint $60 Unlimited Plan is available to both new and existing Sprint customers starting tomorrow, August 22. To qualify for the plan, customers must purchase their device through Sprint Easy Pay, pay full retail price or bring their own compatible device."
There's nothing I love like a good old catfight, and that's what we have here between Sprint and T-Mobile. Rather than set their sights on the two goliaths, AT&T and Verizon, Sprint decided to position themselves as the super T-Mobile. They'll offer respectable service and reception with some high quality handsets but sharply undercutting the big boys in price. Heck, it worked for T-Mobile over the last 6 months, so it only makes sense that Sprint would join in the fun.
So let's take a closer look at what this actually means for the market, and whether you and I should be interested. Shall we?
What About Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile?
If you have a wireless handset 4-5 years ago you might remember the heyday of unlimited service. Mobile web was nothing like it is now, apps were non-existent, and basically the most high tech thing that people were using their phones for was checking email and sending picture messages. It was great business for the big wireless carriers because they could charge us $10 for 500 text messages when it actually only cost them about $1.50 for 500 texts netting a profit of $8.50. Because the necessary bandwidth for these activities was so low, all the carriers offered all-inclusive plans that were a $20 or $30 premium.
With the rise of the Iphone and eventually Android phones catching up in functionality, unlimited plans mostly disappeared. AT&T famously allowed grandfathered plans as long as you didn't upgrade your phone, which meant Iphone 3 users could hold onto unlimited data and text messaging. Verizon soon followed suit and got out of the unlimited game. T-Mobile stubbornly held onto an "unlimited" plan but wasn't shy about throttling data speeds for heavy users, and Sprint offered unlimited service of questionable quality.
But now all that goes out the window since Sprint's unlimited plan is $60. While the easy target is T-Mobile with their throttled unlimited service being $20 more expensive, the real trophy would be getting Verizon customers to bring over their CDMA handsets to Sprint. If we're comparing Sprint's plan to a heavy user plan on Verizon, you're suddenly looking at a difference of $40-50/month. Can you hear me now?
The Big 4
Who is your mobile carrier?
Who is your mobile carrier?
What about Virgin and Cricket?
Now, for most people, there are 4 and only 4 carriers, but the personal finance bloggers and community are well aware of local and less expensive carriers. Of them, I want to speak to both Virgin Wireless and Cricket Wireless.
Essentially, both Virgin and Cricket use the Sprint spectrum and Sprint technology for their customers. The biggest differences you run into are in pricing and on the device level. With Sprint's move to $60, they can finally compete with the little guys on pricing while allowing their advertising dollars to bring in the customers. The fact that they have access to the latest phones from Samsung, Apple and LG give it an upper hand on the little guys.
I will say, though, that if you can get the same device (like an Iphone 5s) on Virgin Mobile, then you'll end up with a similar level of cell phone reception and data service. You'll end up having to pay for the phone up front and then the pricing is more or less the same, so it's really about preference at that point.
Let's get down to brass tacks: What does this all mean then?
Sprint cutting the prices on their individual plans means that they're going after lone wolf power users on T-Mobile, Virgin Mobile, Cricket Mobile, and to a lesser extent, Verizon Wireless. Sprint has all the handsets that the other big 3 have, and they can offer true unlimited data usage for consumers at a great price point that is literally half what some people are paying.
But maybe the biggest question is why did Sprint only do this for individual users? Have they ceded the family plans to Verizon and AT&T with their multiple users? Is it because the common practice of $10 extra lines isn't all that profitable for Sprint?
I don't know the answer to that, and only time will tell whether this will finally be what Sprint needs to work its way back to one of the top 2 positions in US cell phone carrier land. But at the very least, let's take a moment to thank them for putting pressure on the other guys to give us what we want: unlimited access at approachable prices. Thank you Sprint!
Sprint Phone Selection
So Sprint has changed the game when it comes to pricing, what about the phones? Let's take a look at the devices you can get on Sprint and how that compares to the big guys.
Galaxy Note 3 - Fantastic phone and good for power users. On all carriers.
HTC One M8 - Maybe the best Android phone out there. On all carriers.
Smasung Galaxy S5 and S5 Sport - Of course the latest Samsung flagship phone is on all carriers, but it's a little harder to find the Sport edition. I wouldn't recommend it anyway.
Iphone 5s/5c/5 - They've got all flavors of the Iphone, just like everyone else
LG G3 - The other candidate for best Android phone is on all carriers
LG G Flex - The curved display phone that you can't get everywhere. Score one for Sprint!
And so on and so forth. Whereas the cell phone device used to be a sore point for Sprint, clearly they've closed the gap and you can get whatever phone you want (as long as it runs on the CDMA spectrum a la Verizon).
Sprint and T-Mobile
I believe that being frugal and making smart money choices is like any other exercise. As we continue to practice good habits in saving money where possible, finding deals for what we want, and having a good time at it, then we become better at dealing for a living.
I'm committed to sharing my experiences with getting the most out of using credit cards, saving and spending tips, and I might even add a slice of perspective without trying to be a psychoanalyst like some other personal finance folks out there.
Please let me know what you think and if you'd like to hear my take on a specific topic.